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Hulu UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY (2020/1) (1 Viewer)

JoeStemme

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The title is a tip-off that this isn't going to be a general bio-pic. It's a prosecution of a case. Director Lee Daniels has never been accused of being a subtle filmmaker, but here he and writer Suzan-Lori Parks are weilding a mighty gavel. It's a miracle than novice singer turned actress Andra Day still shines.
The basic facts here are indisputable: Billie Holiday was hounded by the government, had a series of bad marriages and died at a tragically young age (44). Still, Daniels' approach of dwelling solely on the abuses of Holiday's life, whether they be legal, physical, sexual or narcotics- related, does a disservice not only to the singer, but to the 'case' he is trying to make. Daniels uses a catalog of tricks which sometimes work - using 16mm and 35mm film for flashbacks (although using digital 'scratches' on the celluloid is a hoary cliche); And some that don't - a long heroin fueled fever dream.
What's missing here is Holiday's artistry. Her inner soul. She had affairs with famous, successful people of both sexes -- but there's no evidence here of why they would be attracted to her. Surely, she had a wit and a charm that goes beyond being an attractive famous chanteuse. Parks' script focuses on the blunt-spoken, yet needy part of her personality, not her passions.
Day does a remarkable job in a blunt, honest way that isn't all actor-ticks. And, unsurprisingly, the singer shines on stage during the performance scenes. It's a breakthrough for her, even if the film around her is in shambles. One is much better off with one of the numerous Documentaries on Holiday.
 

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